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Book: Extending Research Horizons in Applied Linguistics

Chapter: The Application of Projective Techniques to Render Linguistic Repertoires of Plurilingual Language Learners at the Tertiary Level

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.41512


The chapter takes a look at projective techniques and their application across disciplines. It goes back to the psychoanalytical foundations of the concept and traces its historical development. Various types of projective techniques are presented, followed by a critical discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of their employment in research. The very concept of “projection” is attributed to Sigmund Freud (Breuer & Freud, 1895). It involves transferring (projecting) unconscious and frequently suppressed beliefs to another person or object in order to protect one’s ego. The term “projective techniques”, advanced by Frank (1939), might be basically defined as questioning techniques “that depersonalize the question to the respondent thereby desensitizing the respondent to the answer they give and deactivating their conscious defences about the answer they give” (Das, 2018: 10) The first applications of the techniques took place within the field of clinical psychology, where they were mostly used in psychoanalysis or personality assessment. Within a decade they were adopted in management and marketing research. In fact, nowadays their usage in consumer and marketing communication research is in its heyday and is often considered to be superior to other research methods (cf. Kaczmarek et al., 2013). To some extent, projection techniques have been also adopted in linguistic research (e.g. Labov attitude research), however, contemporarily their use in this field is rather marginalised. This could be explained by certain controversies surrounding their application in psychometric testing as well as a massive paradigm shift towards the quantitative research approach in the last decades of the previous century. The main premise of this chapter, however, is that their use in the field of applied linguistics (as defined by Evenson 2013) should be revisited, as they offer a unique potential for obtaining deep, meaningful responses from respondents. This is particularly valid in the case of research into sensitive issues such as, e.g. one’s ethnic, cultural or family background. The full potential of projective techniques will be illustrated by a study on the language portraits (Busch, 2018; Kusters & Meulder, 2019) of plurilingual language learners at the tertiary level of education, in order to show how they can reduce social desirability bias and enhance reflection and self-expression through verbal and visual modes.

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